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Two Major Supporters of Armenian Studies Pass Away

Within a week during the last days of February and the first days of March death came to Isabel Berberian and Melin* Kalfayan. Their names were familiar to hundreds of students and supporters of the Armenian Studies Program. The first endowed chair in Armenian Studies and the first chair to become operative on the campus of California State University, Fresno bears the name of Haig and Isabel Berberian. I have had the honor to be the first incumbent of that chair, named after the Berberians thanks to a most generous donation from Isabel and Haig’s daughter Dianne and son-in-law Dr. Arnold Gazarian. Next year will mark the tenth anniversary of the Berberian endowment.

Mrs. Berberian had been in failing health for many months. Her husband had passed away in 1987 and she continued her life in Modesto surrounded by the Gazarians and her four grandchildren:  Janalee married to Brian Melikian, Michelle married to Dr. John Arakelian, Rena married to Wayne Rutledge, and Alyssa. The Berberians, both Isabel and Haig, were characterized by discretion and gentleness. Their attachment to the Fresno community, including Armenian institutions like the church and the Armenians Studies Program and their generosity to it, is reflected in the continuing public service of the Gazarians. Arnold Gazarian serves as the Chair of the Armenian Studies Program Advisory Board and together with Dianne have stood behind us at all times. I also had the good fortune to teach two of Isabel Berberian’s grandchildren, Rena and Alyssa.

In one of those unlucky coincidences that life seems to reserve for us, Melin* Kalfayan passed away the day of Mrs. Berberian’s funeral. She had been in and out the hospital frequently these past months, but seemed each time to bounce back with her perennial optimism. She and her husband Sarkis (Sam) Kalfayan established a special endowment fund in 1991 for the support of the newly created Center for Armenian Studies on the CSU Fresno campus.  the Sarkis and Meline Kalfayan Center for Armenian Studies includes in it the John Garabedian Director’s office, the Sahatdjian Library, and the Avedian Archives.  As the first Director of the Kalfayan Center and the Armenian Studies Program it houses, I have felt assured of the future of Armenian Studies at Fresno State due in part to the Kalfayan endowment which will continue to profit in the year and decades to come through the Kalfayan’s estate.

Sarkis Kalafyan served for six years as the first Chair of the Armenian Studies Program Advisory Board and he and Melin*  have stood steadfast in their support of Armenia and Armenian Studies. More than once in difficult moments, whether it been the need for computers at our sister institution, Yerevan State University, or aid to bring over exchange students from Armenia, Sarkis and Melin* were ready to help.

Melin* was active in community affairs as member of the Eastern Star, Daughters of the Nile, and Daughters of the Vartan. I had the pleasure of Melin*Õs gracious hospitality more than once. I also had met her father, the scholar Hovaness Babessian, at the Cilician Catholicosate in Antelias, Lebanon while he was doing research in the late 1950s.

On behalf of the Armenian Studies Program, its faculty,  staff, and students, and in the name of the Advisory Board, I would like to extend our deepest condolences to Dianne and Arnold Gazarian and their family and to Sarkis Kalfayan, and to thank them for their constant support of our work.

Dicken Kouymjian
Haig & Isabel Berberian Professor of Armenian Studies
Director, The Sarkis and Melin* Kalfayan Center for Armenian Studies